Eating Disorders and Athletes

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Pressure and Competition

Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating, are a serious problem for some athletes today. When considering eating disorders and athletes, several issues arise which can be interpreted as contributing to the problems, such as pressure, stress and competition.

Anorexia and bulimia nervosa are the most common eating disorders found in the realm of professional sports and athleticism, and they affect both men and women of a wide variety of ages. While eating disorders in professional sports are the most often discussed, they are also often found in non-professional sports settings such as high school teams.

Eating disorders are considered to be prevalent amongst athletes because of the rigid standards that many sports place on size and appearance. Size is considered an important factor in sports such as gymnastics, swimming, dancing and figure skating. Eating disorders are also common among those who participate in endurance sports such as cycling, running and cross-country skiing, where low body weight is emphasized.

There are also sports that classify competitors according to weight, such as boxing, wrestling and horse racing. Eating disorders among athletes who participate in sports such as volleyball, body building and cheerleading are believed to occur partly in response to the revealing outfits accompanying play, and the desire to fit into and look good in them.

Athletes may also develop eating disorders in response to strong desires to be fit, and due to the mistaken belief that being drastically skinny will contribute positively to performance. Some may also want to impress and please their coach, judges, spectators, family or friends. Athletes with eating disorders are even more prone to medical complications due to the physical activities they regularly engage in and the high amount of stress they put on their bodies to perform.

Famous Examples of Athletes with Eating Disorders

When it comes to eating disorders and athletes, many professionals have suffered in the spotlight. These athletes, some of whom passed away as a result of complications from their eating disorder, are a stern reminder of how devastating the competition in professional sports settings can truly be.

Nadia Comaneci, the former Romanian gymnast who won 5 Olympic gold medals, and was the first gymnast to achieve a perfect 10 score suffered from both anorexia and bulimia nervosa. She overcame the disorders after seeking treatment.

Another female gymnast, Cathy Rigby, was the first woman in the United States to win a World Gymnastics medal, and also suffered from bulimia for 12 years. Unfortunately, many stories do not end in recovery. For example, United States gymnast Christy Henrich, who suffered from anorexia and bulimia nervosa, died at the age of 22 due to eating disorder induced organ failure.


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